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article imageReview: Stereo MCs Collected

By Adrian Peel     Nov 5, 2014 in Music
The popular English pop/dance/acid jazz/hip hop outfit, best known for their '90s hit "Connected," have released a comprehensive new retrospective. Digital Journal gave it a listen.
Formed in London nearly 20 years ago by Nick Hallam ('The Head'), Robert Birch ('Rob B') and Ian Rossiter ('Owen If') and still going strong, now seems as good a time as any to reflect on what the Stereo MCs have brought to the electronic music scene in the UK.
A DVD and nine CDs that include their 1989 debut, 33 45 78, the Brit Award winning Connected, two discs of remixes and lesser-known material and three brand new tracks - "Good Feeling," "Dance Tonight" and "Autumn Leaves" - should be enough to help die-hard fans, half-hearted admirers and even curious observers to do just that.
Stereo MCs -  Collected
Stereo MCs - 'Collected'
Will Vincent
Let's start with the above mentioned debut, a pleasingly rough-around-the-edges (though slightly overlong) masterpiece that came right at the birth of 'Madchester' and the '90s dance boom.
Unsurprisingly for such a talented bunch of musicians, DJs and producers, it still sounds as fresh today as when it first hit the scene. Tracks of note include storming opening number "On 33," "Neighbourhood," "Back To The Future" and "What Is Soul?."
Even better was the band's brilliant second LP, Supernatural, a more polished effort that followed a year later. This time, with a major label (Island) now behind them, the Stereo MCs truly began to hone their unique and unmistakable sound.
Stand out moments include the relaxed groove of "I'm A Believer," the trippy "Elevate My Mind," the chilled-out "Two Horse Town" (displaying the kind of creative, laid back electronic beats-with-real-instruments vibe that Groove Armada and Air would popularise later on in the decade) and the funky "Lost In Music."
Next in our trip down memory lane comes the big one, Connected from 1992, the winner of Best British Album at the 1994 BRIT Awards. Largely thanks to the widely-played title track (the song even broke the US Top 20), the unpretentious threesome suddenly found themselves in great demand all over the world.
Along with "Connected," the other tune that most people should know is second single "Step It Up," an even better single that its predecessor, in my opinion. Despite these two mega hits (and the excellent "Pressure" and "Creation"), I have to say that overall I actually prefer Supernatural.
After all the success, things went rather quiet on the Stereo MCs front - although they were kept busy doing remixes for the likes of U2 and Madonna - until 2001's Deep Down & Dirty.
While their moment in the limelight had clearly passed by that point, there are still one or two things to enjoy on album number four ("Sofisticated," and the title track, for example), even if it doesn't really stray too far from the tried-and-tested formula - a formula that was starting to sound a little tired.
2005's Paradise was something of a triumphant return to form for the band as they started to experiment with different sounds and ideas, as opposed to simply revisiting their early '90s peak (as was often the case on Deep Down & Dirty).
Impressively for an act now in their third decade, they sound remarkably alert on this album and at the top of their game, and there are some outstanding musical moments to savour that rank alongside their very best work, chief among them "Warhead," "Set It Off," "The Fear," "Float On" and "I Feel You."
Double Bubble
was the dance pioneers' last album of the decade, hitting the shelves in mid 2008. It's a pretty decent addition to the MC's back catalogue, though not a patch on Paradise, and my favourites on this CD are "Gringo (Ragged & Ruthless)," "Show Your Light" and "Human."
Rounding off the regular releases on this exhaustive compilation is 2011's Emperor's Nightingale, a slightly better than average 12-track album that includes a pleasing and musically complex duet with English jazz singer/pianist Jamie Cullum entitled "Boy." "Far Out Feeling," "Tales" and "Bring It On (Path To The Mind And The Soul And The Spirit)" are my other picks here.
As for the remainder of Collected, the CD of classic remixes is enjoyable enough (especially the Future Sound of London's remix of "Connected") and the CD of new, rare and previously unreleased material offers up some pleasant surprises, particularly "The Runaway" a great remix of "Breeze" and the Autobahn Remix of "City Lights."
This is a very welcome release and a well-deserved tribute, of sorts, to one of the most groundbreaking acts of the 1990s - which should be enough to satisfy long-term fans and dedicated band completists.
Those who wish to dig a little deeper than "Connected" and "Step It Up" will also find much to enthrall and delight (if nine discs wasn't enough, there's even a DVD and a 32-page booklet!).
For anyone wishing to discover what this group are all about - and for wannabe music historians interested in learning more about the British dance scene of the late '80s/early '90s - this is the ideal place to start.
Stereo MCs Collected is out now and is available on Amazon.
For more information, visit the band's official website.
More about Pop music, british music, Connected, London, the brit awards
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